Detroit — If you walked past him down one of the aisles at the Lakeland Publix or saw him at a Starbucks, you might not recognize Tigers pitching prospect Alex Faedo these days.
“Yeah, I’ve got a little too much beard going, a little longer hair,” he said.
Little longer? His hair, though he’s pulled it back off his face, hangs to his shoulders. Hard to tell from the angle of the Zoom lens, but he may have been rocking a ponytail. Coupled with the jet-black beard, you might think he trying to be incognito, like he was in a witness protection program.
“I basically am,” he said, laughing. “In the rehab group.”
It’s been more than eight months now since Faedo, the Tigers’ first-round pick in 2017, the first real peg in the club’s rebuild, had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He grinds through the physical therapy, the strength and conditioning work, the limited flat-ground throwing six days a week. And he faithfully watches from his couch as his buddies soldier through their first full seasons in the big leagues.
He reaches out to them via text once in a while, but not as often as you’d think.
“It’s fun watching their games each and every day,” he said. “Obviously, I’d love to be a part of it.”
See, they were supposed to come as a foursome. They talked about it. Faedo, Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal. They were supposed to hit Detroit together and impact the franchise like John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery did in Atlanta three decades ago.
Didn’t exactly work out that way. The two newer guys — Mize and Skubal — got there first, debuting in 2020. Manning and Faedo both battled nasty bouts of the COVID-19 virus, both lost upwards of 20 pounds and weeks of their young lives in quarantine.
Manning hardly pitched in 2020 because of a forearm strain. Faedo was first shut down with a forearm strain, too. Only it never got better.
“We were both doing our throwing programs together (in Lakeland) and his arm wasn’t feeling well,” said Manning, who shared a place with Faedo in Lakeland. “He had an MRI and he said he could keep trying to rehab it or whatever. But we both just said, just get (the surgery) done.
“And he said he was going to get it done as soon as he could so he could get back as quick as possible.”
The surgery was done on Jan. 6 and now Faedo sits on his couch watching the other three live out his dream.
“I try not to think of it like that,” he said. “I feel like that always puts me in a bad place. I’m really excited watching what the team is doing up there. And I know I have a chance to be a part of it. I have to work my tail off down here and if I can do that, and then produce on the field when I get back, I’ll be right there.
“I like to think this is just a bit of a delay and I’ll be right back with my guys soon.”
Positive and upbeat
If you knew Faedo even a little bit, you knew he wouldn’t feel sorry for himself.
“He’s always been like that with anything,” Manning said. “He’s just like, this is just a small bump in the road. There are bigger things than that. He’s always been a positive guy.”
It’s just not in his nature to sulk or stay down about anything. He’s a fighter that way.
“I’ve been encouraged the whole time,” Faedo said. “You can look at it two ways. You can look at it as, man, I’m missing another season. Or, you can take it as a blessing. This gives me a year to work on my baseball ability, my physical ability and even my mentals. Every day is another challenge.
“But if I can take this year to really try to get better each and every day, I feel like I can be better than I was when I was last healthy.”
That is the same attitude Michael Fulmer took through his rehab process and he’s pitching as well, stuff-wise, as he did in his Rookie of the Year season. But Faedo’s rehab mentor has been lefty prospect Joey Wentz, who had his Tommy John surgery nine months before Faedo had his.
Wentz, rated the 13th best prospect in the Tigers system by MLBPipeline, is pitching very well at Double-A Erie.
“He’s like my go-to guy,” Faedo said. “He’ll say, ‘Hey, where are you at here? What are you feeling? Don’t forget this.’ He’s helping me along this road.”
It is a lonely road. Fulmer talked about the isolation during his year and a half away from the team in Lakeland. Spencer Turnbull, who had his surgery a couple of months ago, is just about to start the same process.
But the isolation, which isn’t a word Faedo used, just helps keep the focus and motivation where it needs to be — on getting healthy. Monday through Saturday, he checks off the boxes of the plan minor league medical coordinator Corey Tremble has built for him. He does his work with physical therapist Duncan Evans. He lifts weights under the supervision of Francisco Rivas.
“They write out my schedule, they give it to me and I attack it,” Faedo said. “It’s going really good.”
He’s throwing off flat ground up to 90 feet. Sometime after the new year he should be able to start throwing off the mound. Whether he will be able to pitch competitively by spring training — well, that’s too far down the road to think about now.
“I feel like there’s no need to rush it,” he said. “I’d rather be on time and healthy and not deal with one of these things again than rush to get back a month earlier.”
If the typical 18-month timetable holds, Faedo would be full-go sometime next June. But, like he says, best to stay where his feet are.
“In the grand scheme of things, I just want to be healthy for this organization for as long as I can,” he said. “There is no need for me to look into the future with all of this. They do a good job of saying, this is what you’ve got for the week — that sheet, that throwing routine — and then on the Monday of the next week he gives me my next one.
“There’s no need for me to be checking off the days and looking ahead. If I can just win every week, I will be better off. If I’m looking toward that finish line, I’m not focusing on what I need to do today.”
With them from afar
In the meantime, he will be living and dying with his guys off his couch.
“I feel like I’ve been keeping up with the guys pretty decent, but I don’t want to blow them up,” Faedo said. “We’re on such different schedules. All of my stuff is in the morning and in the middle of the day. All their stuff is in the middle of the day and night.”
He almost lost himself watching Manning during his outing against the Blue Jays last week, especially when Manning worked out of a first-and-third, no-out mess in the second inning.
“I was fired up for him on my couch when he got out of it,” he said. “I was like, ‘Dude, that was huge. Getting out of that was like game-changing.’ I texted Derek Hill, too, out there making just incredible plays.”
Last spring, he and manager AJ Hinch developed some pretty raucous banter between them, but Faedo said he’s not much pestered the coaching staff.
“Yeah, I just kind of stay out of their way,” he said. “I don’t want to be that annoying guy who is blowing up their phone and they’re like, ‘Why’s this rehabber guy hitting me up all the time?’ Once I’m healthy, I’ll annoy him a lot more.”
The Tigers are looking forward to that day, rest assured.